IRIN News Examines HIV/AIDS Awareness Levels Among IDUs in MyanmarIRIN News recently examined how the "thousands" of injection drug users in Myanmar have "little or no awareness of the risks" associated with the practice, including an increased risk of HIV/AIDS. The government reports that the number of registered IDUs in the country is around 70,000, with a majority of newly registered IDUs using heroin. However, many IDUs do not register, which is required when seeking treatment, for fear of persecution -- meaning that the number of IDUs likely is much higher. Injection drug use, which accounts for about 30% of all new HIV infections in Myanmar, is the main mode of HIV transmission in the country after heterosexual sex, IRIN News reports. The United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime estimates that up to 300,000 people may be addicted to injection drugs in the country. The government estimates that HIV prevalence among IDUs is about 35% and up to 80% in some areas.
Sun Gang, country coordinator for UNAIDS, said, "HIV prevalence among injecting drug users is pretty high in this country. One in three injecting drug users is infected with HIV/AIDS." Willy de Maere, country coordinator with the Asian Harm Reduction Network, said that HIV/AIDS awareness among IDUs is critical, adding, "You cannot get behavior change unless you have the correct knowledge." IRIN News reports that additional HIV/AIDS efforts in the country include needle-exchange programs. However, some experts say that because of the high prevalence of injection drug use, existing treatment and rehabilitation services fall short of what is needed. UNODC and its partners -- such as AHRN and the Myanmar Anti-Narcotics Association, a local nongovernmental organization -- are working to curb the spread of HIV among IDU populations by providing HIV/AIDS information, clean needles and condoms through drop-in centers and outreach programs. In addition, they are providing medical care for opportunistic infections and general health care and providing referral services for counseling and testing; prevention of mother-to-child HIV transmission; treatment for HIV, tuberculosis and sexually transmitted infections; and detoxification and methadone treatment (IRIN News, 3/9). This is part of the KHN Morning Briefing, a summary of health policy coverage from major news organizations. Sign up for an email subscription.